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January 15, 1976 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1976-01-15

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" THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Arts Enterta inm ent Thursday, January 15, 1976 Page Five

Barry

Lynon

A

19th

century

odyssey

By JAMES VALK

don's footsteps as he seeks out

ON NOVEMBER 3, 1968, I Barry for their final duel are
saw Stanley Kubrick' 2001 an eerie remnant from astro-
naut Bowman's finale in the
Space Odyssey for the first Louis XVI bedroom in 2001.
time. It was a cold afternoon, Yet Kubrick is far from
and I can vividly remember not stumbling into a repetitive
only my seat location, but re- abyss, as his perenniel four-
call leaving the balcony at in- year reconfirmation as a tech-
teremission for popcorn. nical wizard of film has never
There is no display of a po- been more evident. From his
tographic memory at work sweeping manipulation of exter-
here. The only reason I recall iors to his so mm 0.7f Zeiss
these details with such clarity lens that allows him previously
was because of the shattering uen teriors imipaed on-
impat Kuricks wok ha ounseen interiors illuminated on-
impact Kubrick's work had on lv by candlelight, he has estab-
me; a film from which I walk- lished himselfhas a master
ed away from lost, somehow craftsman of film art, a tool
altered in perception. which becomes of inordinate
For weeks after, I couldn't measure when accompanied by
help but think of the film. the genius of his cinematic per-
Having been brought up on ceptions.
Saturday and Sunday matinees, IN ORDER TO transfer
I was accustomed to the film Thackeray's literary work into
experience, yet had never his own cinematic terms, Ku-
thought of film as art or any- brick has changed the original
thing beyond mere entertain- first person of the novel to the
ment. But 2001 bothered me, third person narration that ac-
and at fifteen, I found myself companies the film, read with
challenged for the first time by historical authority by Michael
a movie - a strange and dis- Hordern. This not only allows
turbing work that confused and Kubrick the supremacy re-
intimidated me; I wasn't sure quired in controlling the char-
whether I would ever get the acterization of Barry, but
best of it. serves as a convenient corn-
SEVEN YEARS have passed pressor of time by which he
since that afternoon, and I have can omit or clarify ("it would
since seen Kubrick's film nine require a great philosopher and
times, the last just weeks ago. historian to explain the causes
I return not seeking a record of the great Seven Years War")
number of viewings, but out of at will.
appreciation for what Kubrick Because of this change in per-
does and how he does it. 2001 spective, Kubrick's characteriz-
represents my early introduc- ation of Barry becomes more
tion to an artform, much like likeable, eliminating much of
entering through the Star Gate the implicit shrewdness and
into a fourth dimension; a dominating narcissism that rav-
film so reckless in its respect aged Thackerav's character.
to previous cinematic form and Under Kubrick, the "luck" that
so awesome in its scope and accompanies Barry throughout
refusal to compromise that it (no doubt an inherent factor
could stand as some kind of a in the film's original title, The
great work purely on the criter- Luck of Barry Lyndon) is shift-
I1 it is so noticeably devoid of. ed, but never at the cost of al-
BARRY LYNDON, Stanley tering the thrust of Thacker-..
Kubrick's tenth film, is yet a ay's initial intention.
further extension of the Ku- Where, according to the book,
brick mastery, only under per-
hops what can be considered a I
more extraneous set of circum-
stances. Seeking out an obscure The mystery of 'Barry
Victorian novel in the form of:.c , r .
William Makepeace Thacker- Kubrick's works, is on
ay's The Memoirs of Barry the a c c e p t e d limita
Lyndon, Kubrick has taken a
work that, on the superficial film; it challenges anc
level, at least, appears a far uration that is uniquet
cry from the contemporary
Kubrick that has lingered in so roots from the classic1
pervasively the twilight of
man's future. ..i........................ .isi.i.i:Li. i
To view Barry Lyndon in
terms mutually exclusive of the the Chevalier was found to be
literature proper, one discov- .Barry's long-lost uncle, the liai-
ers a roguish character not far son has been toned down by
in relevance from Alex, the Kubrick to a mutual weakness
young droog of Burgess' A for a friendly hand of an old
Clockwork Orange. Where countryman. Yet while Thack-
Barry, a scoundrel and a cheat eray affords Barry the "luck"
by nature, seeks to materialize of being jailed for past debts,
his immodest claim at becom- Kubrick subjects him to a duel
ing entrenched in the pinnacle with Bullingdon, a total rewrite
of the isolated rich, Alex, too, of the book's ending.
finds hihself pitted against the THE FIRST HALF of Barry
wealthy and politically Power- Lyndon seems a virtual mara-
ful while still remaining a less thon without end with Kubrick
than sympathetic character in establishing h i s scenario
his own. through lavish visuals and stun-
WHATEVER SWAYED Ku- ning images. By intermission,
brick to devote four years of one justifiably wonders if the
his life to Barry Lyndon (to director has indeed gone mad,
reach what he considers "the for such an untimely preoccu-
obscession state") remains on- pation with such seemingly
ly speculation. Conceptually, trite material suggests an over-
the very breadth of a 19th cen- indulgence of monsterous pro-
tury novel with an 18th cen- portions.
tury character is an awkward Yet when viewed against the
departure from the director's work as a whole, the initial en-
pathway of the last twelve deavor had been time well
years. spent. Kubrick restrains O'Neal
But however Kubrick stumb- to the point of suppression, al-
led upon the Thackeray novel lowing his persona to emerge
now seems little more than a through expressions rather
curious detail. At times, Thack- than words, exorcising the
eray's work seems to beg for minimal response required by
a Kubrickian treatment, for in utilizing not only an excellent
Irish Scrapbook, when frustrat- supoorting cast, but by juxta-
ed with his inability to convey posing his characters against a

his textures to the reader, he torrent of dazzling imagery. j
simply resorts to ankapology, He allows his camera words
writing "printer's ink cannot that surpass physical expres-
give these wonderful hues, and sion, drawing it back to reveal
the reader will make his own a cascading landscape that
picture at his leisure." literally overwhelms the now
What Kubrick has done with minute characters, reducing
Barry Lyndon staggers the them to a mere presence
mind when one considers the against the beckoning physical
film is much less intellectually world of which Barry finds
profound than either 2001 or A himself so infatuated with.
Clockwork Orange, yet arises s st E
inIt is a stock shot that is re-
more a c the classical literary peated numerous timesthrough-
caue o th clssial itearyout the film; one which exists
boundaries he has chosen to far beyond the obvious pano-

N, -
a.
In a textbook example of Kubi
share a pensive moment alone
hiam Makepeace Thackeray's "]
sion from Britian without the 10
guineas.
But his misbread honor pre-
vails, and the lingering gray
clouds that hang over the after-
noon sky remain an omnipres-
ent accomplice to those who
allow their naivete to dictate
their path.
After being stopped by the
Prussians and initially ques-
tioned by Captain Potzdorf,
Barry, dressed in the garb he

and Kubrick's Barry Lyndon'
of such a diverse nature that
any rational comparison of
them invites a discussion of ap-
ples and oranges.
Yet Kael categorically de-
bunks Kubrick's work, lectur-
ing that "when a director gets
to the point where the one emo-
tion he shows is morally and
physically ugly, maybe he
ought to knock off on the big,
inviolable endeavors."
But why? Altman's Nashville,
which Kael found to be a mas-
terpiece, is a striking example
of a cynic's notebook on Ameri-
ca, interlacing vignettes that,
yes, are occasionally humanis-
tic, but ineffectual to his final
verdict. Must one necessarily
see compassion when the sub-
ject is dispair?
Would a more humanistic
treatment of Barry had made
Kubrick's film any more a work
or art? Or to peg the more com-
mon scapegoat, would a more
kinetic Lady Lyndon (whose
presence is little more than a
plot necessity, a point many
fail to realize, evidently from
the fact that she receives equal
billing with O'Neal) had made
the plight more intensive and
therefore a more effective
film?
What Kael, Simon, et al. have'
refused to accept is that Ku-
brick has chosen not to deal
in literature - he is working
in film, perhaps, in a purer
sense that has ever been done
before.. Where Altman turns his
camera on and lets his actors
tell the story, Kubrick turns
the actors on and lets not only
his camera but his music, his
images, his film advance the
narrative.
THERE APPEARS TO BE

sharing the award - two films
a distinct coefficient of un-
productivity in extending the
auteur theory in a reverse di-
rection, a theory, I might add,
Kael is opposed to on the basis
that it leads critics to praise
bad films. Yet when she can
find justification in Peckin-
pah's Killer Elite based on her
"intimate" knowledge of the
director and his films, one
can't help but speculate that
she is capable of applying her
prejudices equally in the op-
posite direction.
It would seem safe to assume
that those who found 2001 an
exercise in frivolity will find
Barry Lyndon a "coffee-table"
travelogue. Preoccupations with
landscapes and colors are lethal
misconceptions to enter a film
with, and when one discovers
the comfort and security of
dialogue and elaborated charac-
ters absent, it remains a safe
and consistent write-off for
new ideas yet unaccepted.
Somewhere, not too far in the
distant future, the art of the
film will become recognized as
such. Its students will be those
brought up recognizing the
cinema as a normal companion
to the written literature, music,
and the painted art. Yet until
film can be objectively asses-
sed in terms of an unbiased
consideration, recognized as a
unique marriage of words and
images, sight and sound, at
times, in seemingly incredible
disnorportions, it will remain,
in the theoretical eves of some,
the most bastard of artforms.
Copyright 1976 James D. Valk
James Valk is the Daily's film

rick's stately elegance, Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon) and Dominic Savage (Lord Bullingdon)
a situation Barry's "newly acquired" wife finds all too common in the film adaptation of Wil-
Barry Lyndon."

y Lyndon,' as with all of
e which lies far beyond
tions of contemporary)
acceptance of a config
to film while pulling its
literary structure.
stold from a British officer, at-!
tempts to avoid his detection by
chicanery, claiming poor maps
for the cause of his traveling
in the wrong direction, thus un-I
wittingly proving little more
than an act of self-mockery,{
debasing himself in the pres-
ence of one already leery.
ALLOWING THE shallowness
of the stumbling Barry to come
out, Kubrick thus builds on the
prominent flaw of Thackeray's
novel: the inability to inter-
weave the paradox of Redmond
Barry to Barry Lyndon.
Kubrick has wisely avoided,
much of the book's efferves-
cence in which characters:
squabble in a maniacal frenzyl
over petty incidents of status1
and wealth. Thackeray, a jour-f
nalist before a writer, seems at
times more aptly suited to an
editorial page than between'
the covers of a novel, and thus
his fluency suffers because of
gross caricatures.
In his adaptation to film, Ku-
brick chose a much more sub-,
tle approach, one in which not
only is the society to which Bar-
ry's seeks entrance made to
appear more subdued, but Bar-1
ry himself is far less the con-
niving swindler Thackeray or-
iginally wrote him as.
The mere fact that Barry, a
boy whose only true virtues
were passion and gallantry,
could maneuver his way into
the higher echelons via the
"honorable occupation" of gam-
bling says more about the
transluence of the aristocracy
than Thackeray's recklessness
could have ever hoped to ac-
complish.
IT IS KUBRICK'S genius that
allows him the task, injecting
irony in virtually every scene,'
alternating one turn-of-the-

screw with yet another. Onei
need not look any farther than
the marriage of Redmond Bar-
ry to Lady Lyndon for the final
victory of audacity over the
very superficial arrogance that
sought to destroy him earlier int
the form of Captain Quinn. t
But Kubrick, like Thackeray,
is a pessimist as well as a sa-
tirist, and no sooner has the
film started than we know it
will end tragically, with the,
very supercillious lifestyle Bar-
ry has strived for proving itself
the ultimate victor, fighting to
return to a steady-state. The,
fate that awaits Barry is much
the same that awaited Alex,
with the dichotomous elements
of Barry Lyndon not so easily I
discerned.
BY THE SECOND HALF of
the film, it becomes evident
what Kubrick has been up to,
for no sooner has the film re-
sumed after the intermission
than we find Barry marrying
Lady Lyndon and learn of Lord
Bullingdon's seething hatred
for him, a passion matched on-
ly by his love for his mother.
It is in this last half that
Barry's motives become un-
quesionably clear, for we see
that his love for Lady Lyndon
was a mere mechanical devise
to gain his material goal
(Thackeray aptly writes "It
was her estate I made love
to."), and it is finally here
where Lord Bullingdon appears
as the aristocratic torchbearer,
refusing to accept the blind love
of his mother, ultimately chal-
lenging his step-father's preten-
tious claim to bear the name
Lyndon.
THE MYSTERY OF Barry
Lyndon, as with all of Kubrick's
works, is one which lies far be-
yond the accepted limitations
of contemporary film; it chal-
lenges an acceptance of a con-
figuration that is unique to film
while pulling its roots from the
classic literary structure.
Kubrick's initial abstract ap-
proach in 2001 drew him criti-
cism not only from those stark
traditionalists who can see no
farther than a clearly visible
outline, but from the very in-
tellectual core who find film
the most lucrative and chal-
lenging of the arts.
The New Yorker's Pauline
Kael, who regularly praises
Robert Altman for his cinema-
tic trendsetting, has scorned
Kubrick for breaking virgin
territory in the opposite direc-
tion, failing to accept even the
premise he constructed by dis-
missing 2001, scoffing "it's fun
to think about Kubrick really
doing every dlumb thing he
wanted to do, building enor-
mous science - fiction sets and
equipment, never even bother-
iron and Oscar Levant
Kelly as an American artist

ing to figure out what he was
going to do with them."
KAEL'S SARDONIC com-!
ments are not totally surprising
considering her obessional pen-
chant for Altman. If ever two
directors represented the ex-
treme ends of the theoretical!

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Kubrick and Altman are that
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in cinematic idealism.
For the first time in its his-
tory, the National Board of Re-
view voted a tie for "Best Pic-
ture", with Altman's Nashville

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THE PHYSICAL and techni- stead to serve as non - verbal
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